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Preschool Assessment: A Guide to Developing a Balanced Approach
Child assessment is a vital and growing component of high-quality early childhood programs. Not only is it an important tool in understanding and supporting young children’s development, it is essential to document and evaluate program effectiveness. For assessment to be widely used though, it must employ methods that are feasible, sustainable and reasonable with regards to demands on budgets, educators and children. Equally important, it must meet the challenging demands of validity (accuracy and effectiveness) for young children. It is the balance between efficiency and validity that demands the constant attention of policymakers — and an approach grounded in a sound understanding of appropriate methodology.
Issue 7 / July 2004
by Ann S. Epstein, Lawrence J. Schweinhart, Andrea DeBruin-Parecki and Kenneth B. Robin
What We Know:
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This policy brief is a joint publication of the National Institute for Early Education Research and the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation.
• Require that measures included in an assessment be selected by qualified professionals to ensure that they are reliable, valid and appropriate for the children being assessed. • Develop systems of analyses so that test scores are interpreted as part of a broader assessment that may include observations, portfolios, or ratings from teachers and/or parents. • Base policy decisions on an evaluation of data that reflects all aspects of children’s development – cognitive, emotional, social, and physical. • Involve teachers and parents in the assessment process so that children’s behaviors and abilities can be understood in various contexts and cooperative relationships among families and school staff can be fostered. • Provide training for early childhood teachers and administrators to understand and interpret standardized tests and other measures of learning and development. Emphasize precautions specific to the assessment of young children.
• Assessment is an ongoing process that includes collecting, synthesizing and interpreting information about pupils, the classroom and their instruction. • Testing is one form of assessment that, appropriately applied, systematically measures skills such as literacy and numeracy. • While it does not provide a complete picture, testing is an important tool, for both its efficiency and ability to measure prescribed bodies of knowledge. • Alternative or “authentic” forms of assessment can be culturally sensitive and pose an alternative to testing, but they require a larger investment in establishing criteria for judging development and evaluator training. • Child assessment has value that goes well beyond measuring progress in children – to evaluating programs, identifying staff development needs and planning future instruction. • The younger the child, the more difficult it is to obtain valid assessments. Early development is rapid, episodic and highly influenced by experience. Performance on an assessment is affected by children’s emotional states and the conditions of the assessment.
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and testing and other forms of assessment in particular. with predetermined correct answers. is that young children should acquire a prescribed body of knowledge and academic skills to be ready for school. and often look at performance over an extended period of time. and (c) to support parents. The assessment must address the criteria outlined below for informing us about what children in real programs are learning and doing every day. That is. and so on. Accountable System in Programs for Children Birth through Age 8.2 . This paper sets forth the criteria to be considered in striving to make early childhood assessment adhere to these highest standards. The current Head Start testing initiative focuses primarily on literacy and to a lesser extent numeracy. Efficiency and validity are not mutually exclusive but must sometimes be balanced against one another.”4 Testing is one form of assessment. in the broadest sense of this term. T What is new in this ongoing debate is the heightened attention to testing young children as a means of holding programs accountable for their learning. In addition to feasibility. are admittedly neither as widely mandated nor as “testable” as their academic counterparts. Our purpose is three-fold: (a) to provide basic information about the terms and issues surrounding assessment. (b) to add an empirical and pragmatic perspective to what can sometimes be an impassioned debate. synthesizing. while also touted as essential in a series of National Research Council reports6. this means we must continue to serve children using research-based practices.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 Purpose his brief addresses the many questions about testing preschool children. This brief responds to questions being asked of early childhood leaders about the use and misuse of testing for preschoolers 3 to 5 years old. can be appropriately used for purposes that include informing policy decisions about early childhood programming. By contrast. to work toward improving those conditions. Background C 2 oncern with assessment in the early childhood field is not new. It includes information gathered about pupils. are more open-ended. systematic procedure for gathering a sample of pupils’ behavior. Peter Airasian’s Assessment in the Classroom offers the following definitions: “Assessment is the process of collecting. portfolio analyses of individual and collaborative work. whether justified or not. The rationale for this initiative. The challenge is to find the best balance under the conditions that exist and when necessary. they do not figure as prominently in the testing and accountability debate. If assessment places an undue burden on programs or evaluators. Decades of debate are summarized in the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) publication Reaching Potentials: Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment for Young Children. instruction. however. it will not be undertaken at all and the lack of data will hurt all concerned. and teacher and parent ratings of children’s behavior. policy makers and early childhood educators in using assessments to do what is best for young children and support the programs and policies that serve them. and improve assessment procedures to better realize our ideal.”3 “Testing is a formal. Social domains of school readiness. Practically speaking. fulfill mandates to secure program resources. For assessment to occur. Assessment is important to understand and support young children’s development. Hence. Examples include structured observations. and classroom climate. it must meet reasonable criteria regarding its efficiency.1 This position statement has been expanded by NAEYC and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) in a new document titled Early Childhood Curriculum. Continued next page Child assessment is a vital and necessary component of all high-quality early childhood programs. within a set period of time. It is also essential to document and evaluate how effectively programs are meeting young children’s educational needs. and Program Evaluation: Building an Effective. Rather. assessment must also meet the demands of validity. alternative forms of assessment may be completed either by adults or children. specific tasks designed and administered by adults. cost. This response is not merely a reactive gesture nor an attempt to advance and defend a specific position. advanced in the No Child Left Behind Act and supported by the report of the National Reading Panel5. The results of a test are used to make generalizations about how pupils would have performed on similar but untested behaviors. and interpreting information to aid classroom decision-making. It usually involves a series of direct requests to children to perform. the brief is intended as a resource to provide information about when and how preschool assessment in general. Assessment. it must be feasible.
given that even the most well-designed tests can provide only limited data. fidelity to curriculum implementation standards and specific teaching practices. those will drive the form and content of the measures. 3 . further assessments in several related domains are then usually administered to the child. First. teachers or other professionals suspect a problem. thoughtful design of an appropriate assessment tool can encourage program developers to consider what and how adults should be teaching young children. or district standards. and programs.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 Continued from page 2 As a framework for providing this information. state. along with other assessment strategies. sometimes called outcome or summative evaluation. Child assessments can provide formative evaluation data that benefit program and staff development. will be. given the current pervasive use of testing and its probable expansion. when and under what conditions can this type of assessment be used appropriately with preschool-age children? That is. not the young child. Testing can play a role in answering this accountability question. it is possible that the curriculum needs revision or that teachers need some additional training. Conversely. information on developmental progress can and should be shared with parents to help them understand what and how their children are learning in the classroom and how they can extend this learning at home. we proceed to address two questions. program accountability is essential. Child assessment can: 1. data should be aggregated to determine whether the program is achieving its desired outcomes. With this reality as a background. data from parents and other adults involved with the child are considered in determining a diagnosis and course of treatment. First. This conclusion has resulted in an infusion of public and private dollars in early education. child data are best combined with program data that measure overall quality. evaluators have traditionally used testing. to determine whether these educational objectives have been achieved. These outcomes may be defined by the program itself and/or by national. testing is. Identify program improvement and staff development needs. Although data may be collected on individual children. It is this fourth purpose. How the outcomes are measured is determined by the inherent link between curriculum and assessment. 3. Identify children who may be in need of specialized services. Assessment data can be used by teachers to support the development of individual children. In addition. When screening indicates a problem. Plan instruction for individuals and groups of children. if a curriculum has clear learning objectives. this policy brief accepts two realities. General Issues in Assessment Uses of Child Assessment A ssessment can provide four types of information for and about children and their parents. Evaluate how well a program is meeting goals for children. what characteristics of tests and their administration will guarantee that we “do no harm” to children and that we “do help” adults acquire valid information? Second. It is reasonable to ask whether this investment is achieving its goal. 4. Ideally. as well as to plan instructional activities for the class as a whole. Note that it is the program. Numerous research studies show that high-quality programs can enhance the academic and lifetime achievement of children at risk of school failure. used to answer questions about the effectiveness of early childhood programs. who should be held accountable through assessment. Since early childhood programs attempt to increase children’s knowledge and skills in specific content areas. Findings can point to areas of the curriculum that need further articulation or resources or areas where staff need professional development. Second. teachers. If children in the classroom as a whole are not making progress in certain developmental domains. that is the primary focus of this paper. In conducting formative evaluations. and testing is one efficient means of measuring it. In addition. Screening children to determine whether they would benefit from specific interventions is appropriate when parents. and always has been. how can we maximize the use of non-test assessments so they add valuable information beyond that obtained through standardized testing procedures? 2.
Generally. Performance is influenced by children’s emotional and motivational states and by the assessment conditions themselves. Irrelevant items or the absence of items to address some important element of a domain will negatively impact content validity. Face validity deals with appearance rather than content.”9 Growth in the early years is rapid.7 Reliability refers to the consistency. for individualized tests of cognitive or special abilities. Predictive validity is the correlation between a test score and future performance on a relevant criterion. assessment of young children should be pursued with the necessary safeguards and caveats about the accuracy of the decisions that can be drawn from the results. “research demonstrates that no more than 25 per cent of early academic or cognitive performance is predicted from information obtained from preschool or kindergarten tests. Content validity refers to the extent to which the items on an instrument are representative of the key aspects of the domain it is supposed to measure. two aspects of validity have special importance – developmental validity and predictive validity. Because these individual and situational factors affect reliability and validity. or reproducibility of measurements. These procedures and cautions are explored in the following. In assessing young children.80 or higher is considered acceptable. Reliability is expressed as a coefficient between 0 (absence of reliability) and 1 (perfect reliability). A sufficiently reliable test will yield similar results across time for a single child. noted that “the younger the child. there is no single type of validity that is most appropriate across tests. A test has face validity if it appears to measure what it purports to measure. A test would have strong predictive validity. episodic and highly influenced by environmental supports. The criterion to which test performance is compared may be another test or an indicator such as grade retention. even if different examiners or different forms of the test are used. special education placement or high school graduation. for example. A test must be reliable in order to be valid but not all reliable tests are valid. Principles and Recommendations for Early Childhood Assessments. Validity is the degree to which a test measures what it is supposed to measure. the more difficult it is to obtain reliable and valid assessment data. a report to the National Education Goals Panel. It is particularly difficult to assess children’s cognitive abilities accurately before age 6.”8 One prominent expert on early childhood assessment concludes. a reliability coefficient of . Because tests are only valid for a specific purpose and assessments are conducted for so many different reasons. 4 . Developmental validity means the performance items being measured are developmentally suitable for the children being assessed.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 General Issues in Assessment (continued) Reliability and Validity A ny formal assessment tool or method should meet established criteria for validity and reliability. if superior performance on the test was strongly associated with a high level of achievement later in school.
In contrast. These tests are given under strictly controlled. These types of assessments often take place in a natural setting such as a classroom or playground. Performance is highly influenced by children’s emotional states and experience. so that test scores across time may be relatively unstable. Methods such as observation. analysis of work samples. social. relatively quiet area where a child is not likely to be distracted or interrupted. Because standard administration is essential to obtain valid results. Types of measures that might be selected to represent either extreme include standardized testing (formal) and naturalistic observation (informal). Most individual tests of cognitive ability must be administered in a controlled. so an approach that combines or balances the two is most likely to provide a thorough evaluation of children across their cognitive. parent interviews. There is some concern about how well standardized tests work with young children. These tools can be quickly and inexpensively administered to large populations of children. Some assessments are more time and cost intensive than others. examiners do not intrude in children’s behavior when conducting an informal assessment. the skill of the examiner is of particular importance when using this type of assessment. Testing will only meet these expectations fully if the standard of comparison is developmentally and culturally appropriate. The younger the child.. as well as their rapid and sporadic development. Before selecting an instrument for use with a given population of children.10 A comprehensive assessment normally requires a multimethod approach in order to encompass the many dimensions of children’s skills and abilities. or level of intrusiveness into their lives. Standardized tests can be used to obtain information on whether a program is achieving its desired outcomes and are thus often integral components of systems of accountability. or by another professional who interacts regularly with the child. emotional. 5 . time. Standardized Testing The ideal testing environment. A standardized test is most effective when delivered by an examiner who has specialized training and experience with that specific instrument. and biological strengths and needs. standard conditions so that. Formal and informal assessment strategies each have strengths and weaknesses. project designers should be able to explain why that specific measure is being used and what they hope to learn from the results. each child is assessed in exactly the same way. When used appropriately. Designers of standardized tests usually describe in test manuals the type of environment that must be created in order to obtain valid results. Selection of instruments is guided by the purposes and goals of the assessment. and may respond unpredictably to the testing conditions. or teacher ratings can lead to collection of in-depth and authentic data that reflect a “whole child” approach to the estimation of competence and need. The choice of an assessment strategy is also affected by the available resources in terms of time. A repeated measures design is also preferable. and suitable for making quantitative comparisons of aggregated data across groups. The fundamental difference between formal and informal assessment is the degree of constraint placed on children’s behavior. money. Standardized test scores allow for fair comparisons among individual or groups of test takers. as performance of young children on assessment tasks will fluctuate according to mood and environment. will depend in part on where along the formal-informal continuum an assessment lies. Preschoolers may not understand the demands of the testing situation. Assessment strategies lie along a continuum ranging from formal to informal. For example. the more difficult it can be to obtain valid scores.g. and staff. standardized tests can effectively eliminate biases in assessment of individual children.and cost-efficient. especially with standardized tests. For the most part. S tandardized tests represent the most formal extreme of the assessment continuum because they place the greatest constraints on children’s behavior. To address these limitations. examiners may choose to supplement standardized test scores with results from informal measures.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 Assessment Methods T he quality of an assessment depends in part upon decisions made before any measure is administered to a child. disabilities) is to use standardized tests to screen all children. as well as who is best qualified to administer measures. to the extent possible. Children identified as potentially at risk or in need of further intervention can then receive follow-up evaluations using more intensive assessments including informal measures. one effective approach to identifying special needs (e. They are considered objective. informal assessments are ideally delivered by a child’s teacher.
n assessing young children. This investment can be seen as reasonable and necessary. Although careful observation requires effort. Finally.13 Informal assessment can be more expensive than standardized testing. and attitudes. and content is mastered as a means. are not sufficient for good assessment. and the preserved levels of change that follow from instruction. in which give-and-take between teacher and child is the norm. “Pat hit Bob”) rather than subjective. requires adequate resources. portfolios and ratings of children by teachers and parents. the principal alternative to testing is systematic observation of children’s activities in their day-to-day settings. Progress toward mastery is the key.11 Authentic assessments do not rely on unrealistic or arbitrary time constraints. if the goal is to produce information about children’s competencies on real-life tasks in natural and authentic settings. not as an end. though less emphasis tends to be placed on the psychometric quality of informal assessment tools. They engage or evaluate children on tasks that are personally meaningful. the approach has high ecological validity and intrudes minimally into what children are doing. social. assessments must be designed to be longitudinal. especially on a widespread scale. physical skills and the arts. as well as their motivation. 6 8 . Instead. “Pat was very angry with Bob”). Children’s activities naturally integrate all dimensions of their development–intellectual. physical. and instructional practices of the classroom or program with which it is associated. it empowers teachers by recognizing their judgment as essential to accurate assessment. and are grounded in naturally occurring instructional activities. Assessors must be trained to acceptable levels of reliability. They do not offer criteria against which to judge the developmental value of children’s activities or provide evidence of reliability and validity. Anecdotal notes alone. and so on. I This type of assessment should be consistent with the goals. Their use. anecdotal notes should be used to complete developmental scales of proven reliability and validity. It embraces a broad definition of child development that includes not only language and mathematics but also initiative. however.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 Assessment Methods (continued) Informal Assessment Methods Observations I nformal methods offer another approach to assessment. informal measures must meet reasonable standards of demonstrated reliability and validity. They offer multiple ways of evaluating students’ learning. These other methods often fall under the banner of “authentic” or “naturalistic” assessments. It is culturally sensitive when teachers are trained observers who focus on objective. motivational. Such an approach permits children to engage in activities any time and anywhere that teachers can see them. take place in real life contexts.and cost-intensive.12 To document accomplishments. It expects the teacher to set the framework for children to initiate their own activities. entry. culturally neutral descriptions of behavior (for example. to sample the baseline. aesthetic. coding. however. social relations. It defines categories of acceptable answers rather than single right answers. nor do they emphasize instant recall or depend on lucky guesses. Like their counterparts in testing. Data collection. the increment. and analysis are also time. curriculum. culturally loaded interpretations (for example. Informal child assessment procedures that can meet acceptable levels of reliability and validity include observations. Observation fits an interactive style of curriculum. achievement.
the evaluated outcomes must be aligned with curriculum and instruction. they are simply a place to store the best work that has been graded in a traditional manner. Yet they have long been used in preschools to document and share children’s progress with parents. Conversations with children about their portfolios engage them in the evaluation process and escalate their desire to demonstrate their increasing knowledge and skills. There are also programs that merely have students collect work that is important to them as a personal. they are usually not highly structured and may not even include reflective pieces that demonstrate student growth and understanding. as well as student learning and reflection. involves multiple sources and methods of data collection. Children’s grades on report cards are the most common type of teacher rating system for older children. Sharing portfolios with parents can help teachers connect school activities to the home and involve parents in their children’s education. In the preschool years.g. teacher ratings also can be used to assess children’s cognitive and language abilities.”14 creative or problem-solving process as they display the product. encouraging children to reflect on their actions. Children must have some choice about what to include if they are to feel ownership and pride. integrate assessment with instruction and learning. and occurs over a representative period of time. they encourage two. For portfolios to be used for program accountability. non-evaluative record of their achievements. Arter and Spandel define a portfolio as “a purposeful collection of student work that tells the story of the student’s efforts. or global assessments of children’s traits (e. This collection must include student participation in selection of portfolio content.g. Research shows that teacher ratings can have considerable short.. meaningful evaluation is through the use of a wellconstructed portfolio system. The process provides richer information than standardized tests.17 The purposes for which portfolios are used are as variable as the programs that use them. administrators and others. and others that can be used to inform practice and policy in the preschool classroom or at higher levels of the educational system. the criteria for judging merit. teacher ratings are most commonly used to assess children’s social and emotional development. progress. cooperative. they are used to create longitudinal systems to demonstrate the process leading to the products and to design evaluative rubrics for program accountability. The very process of completing scales can inform parents about the kinds of behaviors and milestones that are important in young children’s development. the guidelines for selection. It also encourages parents to observe and listen to their children as they gather the data needed to rate their performance.20 7 . Teacher Ratings Portfolios describe both a place (the physical space where they are stored) and a process. sociable. and evidence of student self-reflection. teachers. frequency of participation in group activities. meaningful evidence of students’ learning and development to parents. Portfolios are most commonly thought of as an assessment approach appropriate in elementary and secondary schools. Soliciting parent ratings is an excellent way for teachers to involve them as partners in the assessment of their children’s performance. hard-working). promote ownership and motivation. An example of the use of parent ratings is the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) study.16 They can provide credible. ability to recognize the letters in one’s name).Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 Portfolios O ne of the most fitting ways to undertake authentic. Portfolios should document the T eacher ratings are a way to organize teacher perceptions of children’s development into scales for which reliability and validity can be assessed. and parents. concrete and specific behavioral descriptions (e.. or achievement in (a) given area(s). in which parents’ ratings of their children’s abilities and progress were related to measures of classroom quality and child outcomes. However. In others.19 Parent Ratings P arent ratings are a way to organize parent perceptions of children’s development into scales for which reliability and validity can be assessed. and establish a quantitative and qualitative record of progress over time.18 In some programs. Teacher ratings can be specifically related to other types of child assessments including scores on standardized tests or other validated assessment tools. teachers. When portfolios are not used to judge ability in some agreed-upon fashion.15 In addition.and three-way collaboration between students.and long-term predictive validity throughout later school years and even into adulthood.
hungry. Further. For example. Worse. 4. The test is then measuring the child’s interest or willingness to respond rather than the child’s knowledge or ability with respect to the question(s) being asked. whether formal or informal. Sampling strategies reduce the overall time spent in testing and minimize the chances for placing undue stress on children and burden on teachers and classrooms. and take a break or continue the test at another time if the child cannot or does not want to proceed. 3. fatigue) that could render single-encounter results invalid and should either schedule a re-assessment or discount the results in such cases. 8 . Testing a representative sample of the children who participate in a program avoids the need to test every child. especially when repeated instances of data gathering are not feasible (e. By measuring ability using multiple approaches. It should not threaten their self-esteem or make them feel they have failed. Information should be obtained over time. a complete and accurate assessment of language ability may involve standardized tests.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 Criteria of Reliable and Valid Preschool Assessment B oth the content and administration of measures must respect young children’s developmental characteristics. Otherwise the information gathered has no practical value. 2. classroom observation and parent ratings. 5. due to time or budgetary constraints). or distracted at the moment of testing. can produce inaccurate or distorted data. especially if brief. then testers should note unusual circumstances in the situation (e. Further. Examiners should be able to respond sensitively to each child’s reactions to the testing situation. To produce meaningful data and minimize the risk of creating a harmful situation.g. Assessment should not make children feel anxious or scared. The length of the assessment should be sensitive to young children’s interests and attention spans. A single encounter. noise) or child (e.. an assessment plan is also less likely to be individually or culturally biased. the testing experience may be negative for the child.g.g. the knowledge and skills measured in the testing situation must be transferable and applicable to real-world challenges that a child may face at home or at school. If time-distributed measurements are not feasible. Otherwise the resulting data will be neither reliable nor valid. so they will differentially demonstrate their knowledge and skills under varying modes of assessment.. Just as young children have different styles of learning. The assessment period should probably not exceed 35-45 minutes. a child may be ill. should satisfy the following criteria: 1. testers should be sensitive to children’s comfort and engagement levels. Tests should acknowledge what children know–or have the potential to learn–rather than penalizing them for what they do not know. Testing for purposes of program accountability should employ appropriate sampling methods whenever feasible. An attempt should be made to obtain information on the same content area from multiple and diverse sources. For example. all assessment tools for preschool-age children..
The assessor should be knowledgeable regarding both the assessment materials and the children being assessed. especially if the assessment can be administered in the context of a normal part of the daily routine (for example. relatively free from distraction. 4. Creating a valid informal assessment for young children is a difficult task that demands unique considerations. the following criteria should be met: 1. the person administering the assessment is a teacher or another adult who interacts regularly with the child. Otherwise. be based on performance standards that are genuine benchmarks. standard scores must be applicable to children at either end of the spectrum and be sensitive to relatively minor differences in skill level. Informal assessments should take place in. Most tests need to be administered in a quiet area. it is incumbent upon the creators of informal assessment tools to design instruments that accomplish the following: 1. For standardized test scores to be reliable and valid. It must be meaningful and authentic. who should administer the assessment. discussing a book as an adult reads it. Because standard administration is the goal. When an outside researcher or evaluator must administer the assessment. and establishing positive rapport with the child. In other words. 2. Parent or teacher ratings should evaluate naturally occurring samples of behavior. Assessment should measure real knowledge in the context of real activities. 2. the examiner will be experienced and comfortable working with young children. for example. assessments should be conducted as a natural part of daily activities rather than as a time-added or pullout activity. If testing is frequently interrupted or if a child’s attention is drawn to other matters. the natural environment in which the behavior being evaluated occurs. the assessment activities as well as the setting should not be contrived. If scores on these measures are to resemble natural performance. and have authentic scoring. assessing book knowledge during a regular reading period). evaluate a valid sample of behavior. becoming a familiar and friendly figure to the children. Ideally.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 O ther conditions that contribute to the reliability and validity of measures depend on the type of measure being used. Standardized tests should contain enough items to allow scores to represent a diverse range of individual ability. the assessment may measure the child’s response to the setting rather than the child’s ability to perform on the content. Meeting this criterion helps to satisfy the earlier standards of a familiar place and assessor. examiners must understand the importance of considerations such as pacing. They should resemble children’s ordinary activities as closely as possible. 3. average and high levels of ability. and the types of skills to be evaluated will differ for standardized tests and informal measures. it is best if the individual(s) spend time in the classroom beforehand. so long as this familiarity does not invalidate the assessment through personal biases. In order to identify and distinguish among children of low. 9 . tone of voice. 3. Decisions on where testing should take place. Testing should take place in a controlled environment that at least approximates the conditions experienced by the population on which the measure was standardized. Examiners should be appropriately trained and familiar with testing materials and procedures. or simulate. Meeting environmental demands is particularly challenging with school-based assessments since space and privacy are at such a premium in schools. assessment that is integrated into standard routines avoids placing an additional burden on teachers or detracting from children’s instructional time. Assessors who are not familiar with a child should learn what the child’s typical interactions with adults are like. It should avoid placing the child in an artificial situation. To the extent possible. In addition. Ideally. results will not accurately reflect ability.
Emphasize precautions specific to the assessment of young children. provided they too meet psychometric standards of reliability and validity. This brief sets forth the criteria for a comprehensive and balanced assessment system that meets the need for accountability while respecting the well-being and development of young children. social.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 Conclusion Recent years have seen a growing public interest in early childhood education. • Involve teachers and parents in the assessment process so that children’s behaviors and abilities can be understood in various contexts and so cooperative relationships among families and school staff can be fostered. With so much at stake–the future of our nation’s children–it is imperative that we proceed correctly. Along with that support has come the use of “high stakes” assessment to justify the expense and apportion the dollars. It can also include informal assessments. emotional. and physical. or ratings from teachers and/or parents. But because we value our children and respect those charged with their education. 10 . Policy Recommendations • Require that measures included in an assessment be selected by qualified professionals to ensure that they are reliable. • Provide training for early childhood teachers and administrators to understand and interpret standardized tests and other measures of learning and development. Such a system can include testing. Above all. • Base policy decisions on an evaluation of data that reflects all aspects of children’s development-cognitive. portfolios. we must guarantee that assessment reflects our highest educational goals for young children and neither restricts nor distorts the substance of their early learning. Developing and implementing a balanced approach to assessment is not an easy or inexpensive undertaking. valid and appropriate for the children being assessed. • Develop systems of analyses so that test scores are interpreted as part of a broader assessment that may include observations. provided it measures applicable knowledge and skills in a safe and child-affirming situation. it is an investment worth making.
16 Paris & Ayers (1994). & Siu-Runyan. Early Childhood Curriculum. L. Vol 17 (pp. 1 11 . L. Review of research in education. DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. et al. & Vogt. 5 National Reading Panel. What makes a portfolio a portfolio? Educational Leadership. (1994). 15 Shaklee. Accountable System in Programs for Children Birth through Age 8. L. Washington. H. 48–55. (Eds. U.. 3 Airasian. 9 Meisels. (2001). 26–33. DC: Administration on Children. (1990). Y. Paulson. L. Reaching potentials: Appropriate curriculum and assessment for young children (Vol. Wolf.. 30–37. J. S. H. & National Council of Measurement in Education.. S.. (1996).. Washington. P. American Psychological Association. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.. 13 Wolf. Eager to learn: Educating our preschoolers. (1997). New Hampshire: Heinemann. Educational Measurement Issues and Practice. 19 Schweinhart.Preschool Policy Matters July 2004 Endnotes: Bredekamp. & Gardner. Paulson. Barbour. B. 40(1). Assessment in the classroom.. (1994). J. 338–340. (2000). T.. and Program Evaluation: Building an Effective. D. J. W. 60–63. Washington DC: American Psychological Association. D. Washington. & Rosegrant. (1997). A portfolio approach to classroom reading assessment: The whys. 20 Zill. 49(8). Glenn. K. Bixby.. S. whats and hows. R.. Standards for educational and psychological testing. 17 Herman. Principles and recommendations for early childhood assessments. Washington. L. P. J.: American Educational Research Association.. (2002). P. Washington. New York: McGraw-Hill.org/resources/position_statements/pscape. N. 52(2). 14 Arter. (1990). S. 10 Hills.. 12 Wiggins. F. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. In S. (1993). B. D. W. & Winters. Reaching Potentials: Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment for Young Children. Portfolio portraits. & Hansford. 43(4).. To use their minds well: Investigating new forms of student assessment. Grant (Ed.. (2003). 11 McLaughlin. S. G. H. Valencia. & Siu-Runyan. DC: American Psychological Association. Newark.. 43-63). 2 National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (2003). (1991). M. DC: Authors. A. 31–74).. H. Head Start FACES: Longitudinal Findings on Program Performance. In G..W. V.. 7 American Educational Research Association.asp. Ambrose. P. Washington. & Weikart. Bredekamp & T Rosegrant (Eds... J. Washington D. Educational Leadership. Neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. (1998). (1996). & Meyer. Educational Leadership. & Ayers. Connell. 8 National Education Goals Panel. Portfolio research: A slim collection. Youth and Families.C.. Creating tests worth taking. Y. MI: High/Scope Press. pp. R.) (1992). 6 National Research Council. (1992). DC: Author. Assessment.. National Research Council. N. 22(27).. (1992). Washington.. Becoming reflective students and teachers with portfolios and authentic assessment. (2002). Valencia. Washington. Delaware: International Reading Association. J. Reaching potentials through appropriate assessment.. O’Brien. DC: National Academy Press.naeyc. C. V. S. R. Barnes. 44 & 29. M. Designing and using portfolios. E. Washington. & Spandel.). National Institutes of Health. S. & Sunstein. Can Head Start pass the test? Education Week. (1999). Using portfolios of student work in instruction and assessment. The Reading Teacher. K. Significant benefits: The High/Scope Perry Preschool study through age 27. R. Department of Health and Human Services. Wolf. Paris. 1. 18 Graves. A. Ypsilanti. DC: National Academy Press. (1992). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.S. T. (2000b). (1991). (2000a). 4 Airasian.. Third Progress Report. DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. 48(5). Available online at http://www. G. Portfolios in teacher education. DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1992).. McKey. 36–44. D. D. R. Portfolio purposes and possibilities.).
It may be reprinted with permission. is a Research Associate at the National Institute for Early Education Research. NAT I O NA L INSTITUTE FOR E A R LY E D U C AT I O N R E S E A RC H 120 Albany Street. Robin. Preschool Assessment: A Guide to Developing a Balanced Approach is issue 7 in a series of briefs.D.D. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Ph. PsyM. This policy brief is a joint publication of the National Institute for Early Education Research and the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. Robin. Suite 500 New Brunswick. Ph..org Information: info@nieer.D. Available online under “Resources/NIEER Publications” at nieer.org Information: info@highscope. Epstein..org . and Kenneth B. Schweinhart. Ph.org This document was prepared with the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts. policy-focused research. state public education campaigns and national outreach. USA (Tel) 734-485-2000 (Fax) 734-485-0704 Website: highscope. Preschool Policy Matters. Starting Strong initiative seeks to advance high quality prekindergarten for all the nation’s three-and four-year-olds through objective. MI 48198-2898.D.D.M. Andrea DeBruin-Parecki Ph. Epstein. Lawrence J. is Director of the High/Scope Early Childhood Reading Institute. Schweinhart. D. is President of High/Scope.. Ph. Andrea DeBruin-Parecki. Lawrence J. New Jersey 08901 (Tel) 732-932-4350 (Fax) 732-932-4360 Website: nieer. is Director of the High/Scope Early Childhood Division. The Trusts’ Starting Early. Ph. Kenneth B.. provided there are no changes in the content. Ann S. Psy..by Ann S..org High/Scope Educational Research Foundation 600 North River Street Ypsilanti..
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